Remembering Virginia Dyer


To the Editor:

We called her the “Tea House Lady.” I met her after I had roofed the house next door to hers. As it happened, I was singing on the roof one day and she was outside tending her flower bed. She asked the homeowners about “the singing roofer” wondering if they would ask me to give her a call because she had some odd jobs to do around her place. I did call, and what transpired was a classic Island experience.

At first, she said she had a screen door to put up and said she had some other things she wanted to get done and would use the screen door job as a sort of audition. It was a success, and she then asked me to insulate and re-panel the ceiling of her living room. What a living room. She had an eye for art work that she had collected, kind of goofy in a way. A giant sculpture of a head that looked like a clown or a strange demonic being, I suppose depending on one’s point of view.

The art, paintings, sculptures, etc. filled the room, all sorts of styles, none matching, which in a way made it all match. I was immediately taken by her eccentricities, and she, I think, to mine. We hit it off, I did the ceiling and then came the tea house. She had always wanted a tea house in her yard, someplace to sit and have tea of course, but mostly, I think, to display her meticulously cared for Bonsai trees. I could tell right off that the project would test my skills, and I told her so, but she gave me a huge vote of confidence, and we were off on the adventure. You see, she trusted me, I think, because she saw that I was an artist, a singing roofer, and she too, as evidenced by her home, and her yard, was an artist. A person who’s way of life was artistic.

The tea house was built, arched hips, an arched roof, all out of red cedar. It turned out to be a sort of coup de gras for me as a shingler. A real, useful piece of art. It took a good two months from start to finish, and during that time we became better friends. I learned of her love for plants of all kinds. I learned of her tenacity, having grown up in a big family in a mill town in eastern Massachusetts. Her father had worked in a shoe factory.

When she was 50, the age I was when I met her, she decided to become a lawyer. That’s how ultimately she could afford her garden hideaway, she told me, and in the next breath she would reminisce about being a waitress at the Home Port, back in the day. She had a deep connection to this place and sat on the Chilmark conservation commission solely, I think, to help protect the trees and the flowers from being ravaged for water views.

As things go, I got busy, she got married, and we lost touch. I would occasionally drive up to her place and look at the Tea House and less occasionally, when I saw she was home, I would stop in a chat. Life’s lessons come to us in all sorts of ways. The time I spent with her taught me a great deal, about loving life, taking things as they come, and being tenacious. She also taught me to stretch my personal horizons.

It was with sadness that I heard of her death. It was barely a month ago that the thought of her came to mind, as I am sure will continue to happen for the rest of my life. Rest in peace among the flowers, Virginia.

Joe Keenan

West Tisbury